England and Florence: Understated, rural style

Monday, May 13th 2019
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I always wondered why my friend Tommaso was such a fan of British style: he always wore tweed jackets, flannel trousers, Scottish knitwear. Even cotton Harrington jackets.

His green tweed jacket from Loris Vestrucci was one reason I was interested to get something from them. His Pardessus trousers too (which are essentially a heavier version of flannel) were the reason I had a pair made by Whitcomb & Shaftesbury.

Of course, a lot of Italians fetishise English style, in the same idealist way a lot of English think everything Italian must be cool. And this is particularly true of cloth: many Italians used to be sent to the UK to learn their trade, before returning to the family mill.

But Tommaso’s interest was deeper, and I assumed it was just a personal thing.

Talking to him recently, however, he made a case for a deeper connection between Florence and Britain.

The influence of young Englishmen doing their ‘Grand Tour’ on the culture in Florence was apparently strong, in what was a small town. English students still come to the city to study art - though they have long since been outnumbered by Americans.

The countryside was also disproportionately important to Florentine culture, compared to other Italian cities. As it had been in England, ever since the eighteenth century when English landed gentry - in their relatively drab, practical clothes - became the standard for European nobility.

Tuscans have their hunting jackets (the ones with the long hip pockets and section in the back to store your rabbit) and their Casentino shepherd’s cloth. We have our tweed, our caps and waxed jackets.

We pointed a camera at Tommaso in Florence back in January, to get some of this recorded.

Of course, that meant that we immediately started talking about something different, in this case how Florentine clothes related to the architecture and the weather: all grey stone and cream plaster.

Still, there is something English in that too, and certainly the English and the Florentines share something in their understated, conservative attitude to such things. We have little in common with the grand Romans or flamboyant Neapolitans.

The weather looks pretty English in that snippet too. Tweed and flannel are great on a grey, damp day.

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Matt

Florence has had an interest in the English cloth trade for centuries.

The Bardi and Peruzzi families established banking houses in London during the 1290s, providing loans to the English Crown in exchange for bales of high quality wool which could be shipped back to Italy and sold on the Mediterranean market. By the early 1340s, the Crown had become so over-extended that the Florentines had effectively taken control of the royal revenue commodities on wool and clothing and privatised the King’s business to their own advantage. Edward III’s decision to default on his Italian loans created a financial and political crisis in Florence, sweeping aside the old banking families and making was for the rise of the Medici dynasty that would dominate the city for the next 400 years.

So an Italian jacket in English wool has a lot more history behind it than you might think.

Rabster

Nobody does clothes that are stylish and ultra comfortable like the Italians .
Armani took the structure out the suit and made it a thing of sexiness and comfort.
You have said yourself that English shirt-makers can’t make a collar to be worn open , without a tie, to save their life.

The Italians learnt from the British and made it their own.
How do we learn from the Italians and make it our own ?
Or even which of the British Tailors have already done so ?

Ian A

On the evening i’d Like to have added the association that is immediately made with Loro Piana using very rare and luxurious fabrics such as baby vicuña. Naturally this gives them the edge in being able to charge a premium for fabrics across their range. People associate the mill with quality and luxury.

This is much less apparent among English mills and it is very difficult as an end user without much experience to discern why a northern mill might charge less for fabric that appears of similar quality to a company like Fox Brothers which appears to have a large marketing budget and as was told by Douglas of Fox the backing initially of clothing giant owned by Jeremy Hackett!

Obviously many of us are at the mercy of tailors some of whom employ a ‘bait and switch’ tactic where you end up with a different cloth entirely.

Carmelo Pugliatti

I agree for the Italian mills,the only that could be to same level of Fox is Vitale Barberis Canonico,not others.
About Neapolitan flamboyance,well,is a modern feature.
Once flamboyance was a trait considered vulgar,and the Neapolitan gentlemen were very Anglophile in taste (as Italian gentlemen in general). Some “Neapolitan” feature as spalla camicia or bowl glass patch pockets,or complete lack of interiors were considered only for full summer sport suits and jackets. not for winter or also summer evening.Many Neapolitan tailors,as Blasi,Schiraldi,Gallo,Caggiula were quite structured in construction of the suit. This until at all 60s. Can be interesting know that the list of the list of the most Anglophiles Italians traditionally saw in the first places Florentines and Sicilians. For the latter,must remember that many British families lived in Sicily until 1810s, and that the best Sicilian tailors sent his sons to London firms for refinement (for exemple the famous La Parola of Palermo was trained by Meyer & Mortimer,and his son by Stovel & Mason.

Jason

I disagree completely. It’s what you buy and how you wear it that counts.
If you want a concrete testimony to this , you only have to look at the wardrobe put together for Daniel Day-Lewis in ‘Phantom Thread’. A masterclass in style with substance.
Virtually all of his clothes for that movie came from the U.K
Simon makes a point regarding our dearth of manufacturing facilities but I’m pleased to say a good 80% of my wardrobe is made in the U.K or Ireland.
That withstanding, our Italian or French brethren have got the odd item of interest from time to time.

S

With regards to the Phantom Thread, of course Day-Lewis’ wardrobe is very stylish but unfortunately the fit of the jackets made by Anderson and Sheppard are very bad. They have not adjusted for Mr Day-Lewis’ round back and thus the collar stands out from the back in a dreadful way. Guess that tells us what we need to know about the “cutters” at A&S these days when they can’t get this right for such a prestigious client to be worn on screen.

S

DC

Yes this stood out to me as I was watching the film as well. Extremely unfortunate.

S

Simon,

Maybe you can check with A&S what went wrong with the fit of Day-Lewis’ jackets in “Phantom Thread”? Would be interesting to know how a such a reputable tailor could get it so wrong.

Thanks,
S

S

Thanks Simon. Looking forward to hear what they say.

Thanks,
S

S

Hi Simon,

Did you hear back from A&S on this?

Thanks,
S

Christopher

there’s an excellent article in The Rake.
https://therake.com/stories/style/celluloid-style-phantom-thread/

They’re clearly making period costume – the 19oz dinner suit seems almost absurd.

I imagine A&S were pushed out of their comfort zone and, given that they made a substantial wardrobe for DDL alone, would have had to make make compromises in the number of fittings, due to budget restrictions.

Certainly more than they would have for a private client.

A&S were in the service of a story, not the other way round.

Given those restrictions it was nice to see some lovely fabrics close up.

DE

Hi Simon, I find this a fascinating subject. It amazes me when I’m in Florence or even Milan, how much Scottish tweed, English flannel and Irish linen is worn, albeit ‘softened’ by Italian tailoring methods. I understand that Saville Row is cited as the envy of tailoring communities around the world, but their lack of desire to widen the scope of their ‘house styles’ ensures that many of us go abroad – mostly into the arms of Italian craftsmen. It is also interesting that while companies like Ralph Lauren (Purple Label) and Drakes reproduce a British style of tailoring, they both have many of their tailored items manufactured in Italy, not in the UK. As a final comment, I like what the guys at Anglo-Italian are doing to develop products that offer the best of both worlds.

William M

Perhaps many readers of style blogs take the trouble to go abroad but I would suggest most Savile Row customers are wealthy businessmen rather than fashion fiends. If I want a suit I prefer it to look Savile Row smart, if I am looking for a casual piece of clothing I will buy RTW.

Elva

Just the other day I happened across a guide to better-informed clothing purchases. Emphasis is on buying fewer items, but best quality clothing, taking good care of it, making it last, as opposed to “fast fashion” which is worn only a few times, then thrown away. There are facts and figures on how processing cotton, wool, linen, and silk affects our ecology. Anyone interested in wearing natural vs. plastic fibers will find good information here — https://www.resilience.org/stories/2019-05-10/4-simple-guidelines-from-the-fibershed-clothing-guide/

99smith

Hi Simon.

Rightly so there’s a lot of focus on PS on the big names in mens tailoring. Have you thought about doing a series of working with some of the smaller (yet with significant history) tailors still trundling along in the regions or suburbs on the high street? ( wg child of wandsworth, bespoke tailors in yorkshire etc.) They are typically more affordable so could be more accessible to some of your readership getting started in bespoke.

Robin

I notice you mention Graham Browne on a number of occasions but it’s been a very long time since you reviewed anything from them .
Any plans to give Graham Browne a commission soon ?

Anonymous

Fair! Do you get to offset your clothes against tax? As they are part of your career now!

Anonymous

Think you missed my post last time so i’ll try again.

I could easily afford to buy a RR Cullinan, but won’t because it doesn’t represent very good value compared to other luxury vehicles.

Same applies to bespoke suits.

Jackson Hart

Well, isn’t it relative? No one compares value when buying a €1.25 candy bar made with €.30 worth of ingredients. People only start comparing relative values when they are reaching outside of their price range; that is to say, one man’s RR is another’s man’s candy bar.

Omri

This Anglo-Italian connection is wider than just Florence. Universities, particularly Bologna, but also Padova, were an attraction for young Englishmen in the middle and late middle ages. The non clerical nature of the Italian universities allowed students greater freedom when pursuing studies. The Italians didn’t think highly of the English, though. A 15th century Bolognese noblewoman who protested against sumptuary laws, remarked that the cardinal who issued them “would have us all were doll, poor and sad clothes as if we were English”. Also, I believe that the countryside in Emilia-Romagna has a few traditional items that are rather similar to what you describe.

Anonymous

I don’t know if separating brand and manufacturing is ‘useful’. Ultimately the brand becomes a facade of image over substance, I think RL to be an example of this and, curiously, so does the market (2018 sales down 5% world, 10% US). The issue at heart is brand identity. If you identify as a traditional, preppy, luxe US Co. yet everything is shipped in from China (or elsewhere) a dichotomy grows between who you say you are and who you actually are. It’s a danger for all brands. For example Barbour still manufacture the trad. elements in the UK but more is now imported. For a while it doesn’t matter…then one day a tipping point is reached and it’s too late. The identity of the brand becomes so diluted as to be meaningless and thus devoid of it’s core market value. With generic items it’s less important but clothing brands are about ideas of value (often vicarious ideas about lifestyle), as GAP have found, once that idea disappears it’s almost impossible to recapture.

Jason

A very good point !
Provenance is more important than any multi-national will ever understand let alone acknowledge.
There again, in many ways it’s the antithesis of globalisation.

DE

‘a dichotomy grows between who you say you are and who you actually are.’ Great comment – I totally agree with you.

Mike

Hi, Simon

An unrelated question,

Is there a big difference between EG TD and other shoemakers’ bespoke shoes in terms of fit? I wonder how comfortable EG TD is.

Mike

Thanks, Simon.
Isn’t EG TD on a par with MTM even though it’s machine-made?
I heard some adjustments are possible.
Is it wrong?

MIKE

The sales manager of EG told me they can make larger adjustments with TD compared to their MTO.
I’m not sure if it has changed after you ordered your TD shoes.

Jason

Simon,
Be aware, these posts are appearing out of order.
You reply to one point it comes up against something else.
Jason.

Sebastian

I’m looking to get a dinner suit commissioned

But I would like something a bit different and unusual

What do you suggest?

Sebastian

Hi Simon thanks for the reply, I was thinking maybe a shawl colour and a cloth that’s maybe verging on a very dark grey or a dark blue?

Toby

Very few tailors these days manage to get a shawl to look right.

I would advise SB, one button, peak lapel.

Sam

From The Talented Mr Ripley (Patricia Highsmith, 1955), chapter 24:

“Lorenzo Franchetti was wearing a pink embroidered waistcoat, all’ inglese, and an English-made suit and heavy-soled English shoes, and his brother was dressed in much the same way. Peter, on the other hand, was dressed in Italian clothes from head to foot. Tom had noticed, at parties and at the theatre, that if a man was dressed in English clothes he was bound to be an Italian, and vice versa.”